Money Tips for College Students

by Erica Barry 14. November 2012

Money tips for college students

If you are like many young people, going off to college is the first time you begin to feel like an independent individual. Your parents and teachers have taught you all they can to prepare you for the “real world,” and now it’s up to you to decide whether or not you’d like to follow the advice and lessons you’ve learned over the years.

With no one around to scold you or tell you what to do, entering into your newly emancipated lifestyle, it can be tempting to make irresponsible financial decisions; the kinds of decisions that give you immediate gratification without thinking about the long-term effects.

Before you get yourself into a big financial mess so early on in your independent financial life, take a look at these scary stats:
  • According to the 2012 Consumer Financial Survey, 42% of respondents gave themselves ratings of C, D or F on their personal finance knowledge.
  • A recent National Economic Research Associates survey of 6,500 high-debt student loan borrowers found that 65% misunderstood or were surprised by aspects of their student loans or the student loan process. (Source: The New York Times)
  • Approximately one-third of recent grads, if they could do it all again, would have pursued more scholarships or financial aid options, pursued a major that would have led to a higher paying job, or gotten a job while in college and started saving earlier. (Source: Accounting Principals)

Translation: Unless you want to end up grouped into one of these statistics one day, you probably should start getting yourself familiar with the equation of spending less than you’re bringing in. Despite the above stats, oddly enough, personal finance can be fairly easy as long as you are prepared and start the process of saving, prioritizing, and budgeting as early as possible.

It's All About Self Control

For years, I heard from my parents, “Needing and wanting are two very different things.” As with most things, they were right. Just because it’s new and shiny, that doesn’t translate into you being unable to survive without it. Take a few deep breathes and prioritize what you really need to focus your financial efforts on this month. Books? Gas? Tuition? Food? You know, the life necessities when you are a college student. As much as that new COD game or designer outfit may seem like a necessity, you’ll probably discover that you can do without it for awhile.

Where is Your Money Coming from, and More Importantly, Where is It Going?

Repeat after me, “Excel spreadsheets and Personal Financial Management tools like Mariner360 are my friends.” By visually seeing the amount of money you are bringing in versus the amount that is going out, the idea of expenses being less than your income will become a core value in your life. Trust me, once you realize how much a daily Starbucks visit will run you over the course of the month, you’ll start to reevaluate and realize that making small, manageable adjustments to your everyday routine can have as much of an impact as the dent the latte puts on your wallet, but in a much more positive way.

Check out Mariner360, which helps aggregate your expenses and income into one user-friendly platform. You can then slice and dice the information, see trends and even set up alerts (i.e. I only want to spend $50 on dining out a month) that let you know when you are close to hitting your custom set budgets.

Be Leary of Credit Cards

While credit cards are a great way to help you start establishing your credit, they also can be a great way to put you into thousands of dollars of debt. Credit card companies look at college students as fresh meat. They know that establishing credit is important for young adults and so they go to extremes to get you on board early. You’ll see booths at every campus event, and they’ll try to entice students by offering them incentives to open up a card such as free tickets to an upcoming sporting event, or a micro-fiber fleece with your school name on it.

Again, credit cards do help you start to establish credit, but make sure to refer to the “It’s All about Self-Control” tip and pay off your card EVERY month. Use your credit card for only a few specific things such as gas or books. This way, you won’t be overly tempted to put unnecessary purchases on your card and find yourself underwater at the end of the month.

Start a “What If” Emergency Fund

If it can go wrong, it will. It’s Murphy’s Law. The earlier in life you learn this theory, the better. At the end of every month, set aside a few bucks for the “what if” scenarios that you never think, or more importantly WANT, to happen. The more you start getting in the habit of putting money into an emergency fund, the more at ease you will be in the event that you run into some troubles financially.

If you are one of the lucky ones that manage to fly below the radar of good ol’ Murphy and his law, then you’ll have a nice chunk of change to put towards something of importance like a down payment on a house, or that vacation you’ve been wanting to take.

Remember, at the end of the day, managing your finances is a fairly easy process. You don’t need a financial advisor or an advanced degree in finance to establish a good foundation for managing your money. As with most things, simplicity and common sense goes a long way.

If you found this article useful, be sure to check out these related articles:

How I Graduated Debt-Free from College

I Just Graduated from College, Welcome to My Private Jet

Money in Your 30s: Manage It, Don't Be Managed by It



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